How the Small Business Development Center helped edMosphere creator

 

Peg Richmond counseling Julie Smithwick, founder of StingMate™, first aid gel for jellyfish stings

Peg Richmond counseling Julie Smithwick, founder of StingMate™, first aid gel for jellyfish stings

Brrrrriiinnngg! The bell rings over the school’s loudspeaker, briefly drowning out the thoughts of hundreds.

Then, just as quickly, they’re back:

“That girl is totally into me.”

“I hope I aced that test.”

“When is lunch?”

“Are we going to be poor?”

With class periods averaging an hour and catering to thirty students, there simply is not enough time in the day to personally check in with and address the needs of each high school student, explains Lorna Hermosura, who has been an education administrator for more than fourteen years.

“Maybe Johnny is going to get beat up after school today; maybe he’s starving; maybe he’s having a bad day,” she says. Without a way to foster relationships and promote communication, many students flounder while teachers and administrators are left to guess at the problem’s roots.

And guessing typically doesn’t work, says Lorna. “What people think is going on with youth is usually not what’s going on.”

To combat this ever-growing problem, Lorna founded edMosphere, a computer application that opens up communication between students and teachers. A portmanteau of the words education and atmosphere, edMosphere provides a user-friendly way to measure how kids experience school by asking them questions on the computer and sending the answers to their teachers.

The program additionally offers features that help indicate whether students are being bullied or if they need help in a particular area, says Lorna, “all in real time so that schools can be proactive instead of reactive.”

“I’ve always been passionate about building relationships between teachers and students,” says Lorna, a current PhD candidate in the University of Texas’ Education Policy and Planning program, “especially in low-income areas where there’s often more turnover.”

Peg Richmond

Peg Richmond

The path to scalability, or growing the business to reach a broader market, wasn’t always a direct one for Lorna. Before launching edMosphere, she worked for nine years as the director of Southwestern University’s Upward Bound program, assisting low-income high school students to become first-generation college students. An add-on to the public school experience, Upward Bound offers students afterschool tutoring on weekdays, supplemental learning opportunities on weekends, and field trips to visit prospective colleges.

“We served fifty kids—ninth through twelfth grade—a year, and six of the eight graduating classes that I was director over had 100 percent of their kids go to college,” says Lorna, estimating that the program helped between 100 and 130 students get into college. “So I started wondering how we could reach more kids and make this scalable,” she says.

Fortunately, when Lorna was ready to grow edMosphere, serendipity struck: She met Peg Richmond, certified business advisor at the Texas State Small Business Development Center in Round Rock. The two began meeting to strategize how best to further edMosphere, and after only two sessions under Peg’s guidance, Lorna noticed a shift in her thinking: Rather than seeing herself as an employee, Lorna began seeing and introducing herself as a company CEO.

“If you’d asked me six months ago whether I’d be a CEO of a company, I would have laughed,” Lorna says. “I’ve worked for many years for an organization. And I’ve run programs within an organization. Now I am the organization and I need to think about the whole operation—financials, human resources, and all the aspects of running a company.”

Though the long list of challenges may sound daunting to some, Lorna takes them in stride with the knowledge that the SBDC offers a variety of supplementary resources and educational seminars to guide her through her entrepreneurial journey.

“One of our most popular classes teaches business owners how to use QuickBooks,” says Peg, who has been working with the SBDC for nearly two years. “And we’re always coming up with new stuff.” Other useful classes include Spark of Genius Business Camp and Food Safety Training for Manufacturers.

Peg Richmond explaining services of SBDC, including technology and video rentals for creating business promotions, to Julie Smithwick, founder of StingMate TM, first aid gel for jellyfish stings

Peg Richmond explaining services of SBDC, including technology and video rentals

Aside from the classes, most other SBDC resources—including one-on-one advising sessions, hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of online research databases, and access to a vast network of specialists nationwide—are prefunded with tax dollars, a boon for someone like Lorna who is trying to launch her business without breaking the bank.

“Our ideal client is anyone who is ready, able, and willing to grow,” says Peg. “And we are able to continue relationships with businesses that want to continue with us up until they no longer meet the SBA small business size requirements.” Last year, the Texas State SBDC, with offices in Round Rock, Austin, and San Marcos, assisted 772 individual counseling clients, helping build forty-eight new businesses and creating 412 new jobs, says Peg.

Currently, Lorna is working with Peg on developing a cost-efficient social media strategy that will help her leverage her educational background and position herself as an industry expert. So far, Lorna has started an educational blog and a Twitter account.

“I’m new to this, so it’s nice to have a network of support,” says Lorna. “A lot of people have great ideas, but figuring out how to bring them to fruition is the hard part. I feel really fortunate to have found the SBDC.”


For more information on the Texas State Small Business Development Center, visit www.austinsmallbusinessanswers.com.

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